Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Texas A&M researchers map genome for disappearing bobwhite quail


A team led by Texas A&M University researchers has mapped the genome of a popular game bird that has been disappearing at an alarming rate. It took the group two years of six-day workweeks to complete a "first draft genome assembly" for a wild bobwhite quail. The peer-reviewed research was published Wednesday evening in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

The bobwhite is one of the most popular birds to hunt in the U.S., but its population has been decreasing for decades. The chubby, robin-sized quail with a distinctive striped black head is listed as the No. 1 bird in decline in North America by the Audubon Society.

There's no singular agreed upon explanation for the plummeting populations, but the most prevalent explanation is the destruction of habitat.

A 2007 Audubon study said the bobwhite population has decreased from 31 million to 5.5 million. According to a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department survey, the number of birds and hunters have sharply declined. The 1993-1994 survey estimated 224,000 hunters killed 4,962,000 birds, but the 2012-2013 survey found that 21,000 hunters killed 141,000 birds.

The draft genome assembly created by A&M will be a resource for researchers to further study the disappearance of the bird and hopefully help to combat it.

A&M assistant professor Chris Seabury headed the research project.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

TX Park Cities Quail event grosses record $1 million-plus


The event that’s been called “Conservation’s Greatest Night” lived up to its billing March 6 when Park Cities Quail grossed more than $1 million during its annual fund-raising auction and banquet.

PCQ committee chairman Joe Crafton said the amount raised is easily a record, though it’ll take awhile to figure the net proceeds. All of PCQ’s net proceeds are used for quail research. The PCQ event is organized by a volunteer committee. Event speeches by T. Boone Pickens and George Strait are posted on YouTube. Strait received the T. Boone Pickens Lifetime Sportsman Award.

Pickens paid $130,000 in the live auction for four VIP tickets to Strait’s last concert, and he also donated a quail hunt for six couples to his Mesa Vista Ranch. The hunt sold for $175,000. The live auction earned $850,000.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Habitat for quail, mule deer new focus in AZ

Managing wildlife is not easy and there are a lot of places in Arizona to spend the sportsman’s dollar. The Arizona Game and Fish Department is currently asking itself if spreading those limited dollars across the entire state is the best thing or if a more focused approach would bring a bigger bang for each dollar spent.

The Department is looking at two species to focus on: mule deer and scaled quail. The recent increase in the application fees for resident and non-resident hunters will help fund a portion of this new focus.

With the recent large wildfires in the state and current habitat management programs in place, the department is considering units 27, 21 and 22 and 16A to increase mule deer numbers. With some habitat management work in these areas the department believes it can have a noticeable impact on deer numbers.

Scaled quail have been depressed by the incredible encroachment of woody species into historical grasslands. By restoring the grasslands not only will scaled quail benefit but antelope as well. Units 31 and 32 are currently under consideration.

Does that mean that the rest of the state will suffer? No it does not. What it means is that if these focused projects are successful they can be replicated in other areas of the state.

Look at it this way: The Department has been spending a lot of money to slow population declines due to our long-term drought and other factors. Here is a way for the Department to go on the offensive and make a positive change in wildlife numbers in the areas where they can get the best return on the sportsman’s dollar.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bitter cold contributes to reduction in wild quail population


Bitter cold weather takes its toll on wildlife, as verified by data collected in the latest Quail-Tech newsletter. It summarizes various quail projects conducted on more than 27 ranches across West Texas’ Rolling Plains region.

Quail-Tech, a Texas Tech research group, is working to unlock the mysteries behind the precipitous decline in wild quail. Park Cities Quail, the Rolling Plains Quail Research Ranch, UNT Quail and the Caesar Kleberg Wildlife Research Institute are engaged in similar studies.

As recently as this week, this winter has been hard on everybody. It has been particularly hard on small birds that survive the cold by feeding on tiny seeds. On Jan. 31, when a harsh winter storm swept through Guthrie, Quail-Tech researchers were regularly monitoring 136 wild-trapped, radio-marked birds.

Tiny transmitters enabled researchers to find them. The storm dumped a thick layer of snow and ice that took several days to thaw. This study measured the effects of supplemental feeding programs for wild quail. Some of the study units had supplemental feed available and others did not.

Researchers located 27 telemetry birds dead, many frozen. Unable to feed, some had lost 40 percent of their body weight. Quail-Tech numbers indicate that birds without supplemental feed suffer a 10 times greater mortality rate during harsh weather.

Larger, more robust animals like deer and turkeys fare better in the cold, said Kevin Mote, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s (TPWD) leader for Region 3, northwest of Dallas. Mote takes a philosophical slant on wildlife lost at winter’s end.